There are Tulsa Oilers fans who would swear former Oklahoma City Blazer defenseman Tyler Fleck rose from a coffin before game time, white fangs glistening, panting for blood and carnage. Fleck was recognized as an evil enforcer, a monster on ice.
In an example of irony only hockey can provide, Fleck joined coach Bruce Ramsay and his Central Hockey League Oilers in December with all past sins forgiven. He’s prepared to deliver the kind of grinding, gritty and some say dirty performances he gave over 10 seasons with the Blazers.
“I say I play hard and I’ve got a very high intensity level,’’ says Fleck, a 5-foot-10, 210-pound veteran from Carlyle, Sask. “I’ve calmed down considerably from the way I used to be. I’m not trying to hurt anybody and I don’t want that to happen.
“I just play the game as hard as I can. This is a man’s game. We’re not talking basketball where a you can slap a guy and he gets two free throws. This is a battle and we’re in the business of winning. Nice guys really do finish last.’’
No one ever accused Fleck of being Mr. Congeniality on ice. In 11 pro seasons, including his start this year at Missouri and seven games with Tulsa, he’s piled up 1,268 penalty minutes with plenty more in the forecast. Ramsay doesn’t seem to mind halfway through the season as Fleck shores up the Oilers blue line in preparation for a playoff berth.
“I wanted him to come and be a leader,’’ says Ramsay. “He’ll kill penalties for us and shut down the other team’s top unit. He’s a great shot blocker and gives everything he has and makes our organization better. He’s not known for fighting, but he’s very physical and he has the positive attitude to make us successful.’’
Ramsay ought to know. He duked it out with Fleck more than once while playing in Wichita against the Blazers.
“I’m not a real big guy and I have to play bigger than I am,’’ explains Fleck. “My first couple of years I had a lot of fights, but now it’s three or four a season. It is a little weird talking to Bruce because we got into it when he was at Wichita. He was the guy I was worried about. I try to be very difficult to play against and I make sure no top player has a fun night when playing against us.’’
Fleck admitted it was a strange feeling coming to Tulsa after shooting down the Oilers so many times in the past. But the buffer of starting the season with the expansion Missouri Mavericks lessened the blow.